Building Momentum to “Ban the Box” Nationwide

Last week, Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a bill that prohibits questions about prior convictions on initial applications for employment.

This makes Oregon the seventh state in the country to “ban the box” on private employment applications, giving people with records the chance to get to an interview and a fairer shot at employment opportunities. The measure will go into effect in Oregon on January 1, 2016.

Alliance affiliates Oregon Action and Center for Intercultural Organizing were partners in the Fair Shot for All coalition that pushed the “ban the box” proposal forward. The Main Street Alliance of Oregon and its small business leaders also brought their voices to the debate in support of the measure.

The momentum for fair hiring laws is continuing to build: over 100 cities and counties around the country have now passed “ban the box” measures for public or private employment. The issue has appeal across political lines and has brought together coalitions that include civil rights groups, faith communities, labor allies, prison reform groups, and small business leaders.

In addition to this latest win in Oregon, Alliance affiliates from Citizen Action of New York to Virginia Organizing to Main Street Alliance of Florida have been organizing to advance fair hiring policies at the local, state, and national levels.

In Virginia, working with several other groups, Virginia Organizing was the driving force in winning measures to ban the box in 10 local jurisdictions over the past year. They then encouraged Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to issue an executive order banning the box for state jobs; when he did, it made Virginia one of 18 states that have banned the box for public sector jobs.

Virginia Organizing has also weighed in on this issue at the federal level, successfully asking senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to call on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order banning the criminal history question on federal job applications.

Main Street Alliance of Florida got involved in fair hiring issues earlier this year after business owner members shared stories of their past experiences facing employment discrimination based on a conviction history.

In Daytona Beach, Main Street Alliance members testified before the city commission and met with the mayor and city manager, making a small business and local economy-focused case for fair hiring practices alongside arguments about basic fairness and opportunity. The fair chance hiring initiative, including banning the conviction box on job application forms, passed the Daytona Beach City Commission in early June.

Main Street Alliance and coalition partners in Florida then set their sights on Orlando, co-authoring a letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer stating their intent to advance a fair hiring campaign there. Within days, the City of Orlando announced plans to implement a “ban the box” policy by the end of July.

In addition to the boots-on-the-ground work that wins policy change at the local level, Main Street Alliance leaders have used the megaphone of national media to bring a new perspective to the debate about fair hiring and push back on unfounded claims that “banning the box” is bad for business. Main Street Alliance of Florida member Paul Heroux makes the pro-small business, pro-local economy case for fair hiring in this op-ed in The Guardian.

And Main Street Alliance leaders have also joined in the national effort to urge the Obama Administration to ban the box on federal hiring applications.

These ban the box wins from Oregon to Virginia to Florida highlight the power of unusual allies – like job applicants, small business owners, faith allies, and prison reformers – joining together to push for changes that restore economic opportunity, advance racial equity, and build stronger local economies.

That joining together and the power it builds don’t magically appear out of thin air. They take organizing – dedicated, determined, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer organizing. That’s what Alliance affiliates are about.